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Sinclair Plans to Abuse the Airwaves

October 12th, 2004

In yet another demonstration of the right-wing nature of the media, Sinclair Broadcasting is planning to cancel regular prime-time programming two weeks before the election and instead give up their air time for free to broadcast a film that would smear John Kerry. Sinclair, along with Fox and Clear Channel, is well-known as a bastion of conservatism and has been known to take similar types of action before, such as when they refused to air Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” when they spent the entire broadcast honoring the fallen American soldiers in Iraq. Sinclair called the memorial “contrary to the public interest.” In a pathetic attempt to give the appearance of fair play, Sinclair plans to follow the 90-minute smear ad with a “panel discussion” to which Kerry is invited. The invitation, which they knew Kerry would have to be insane to accept, is their way of weaseling out of giving Kerry “equal time.”

In case Sinclair forgot, the airwaves are owned by the public; Sinclair’s action is nothing less than the use of public resources to air political propaganda, timed just before an election.

Remember how, just a few months ago, conservatives tried to ban any TV commercials for “Fahrenheit 9/11” because it could be construed as a political ad? Then what the hell is this? The complaint against commercials for F-9/11 might have been legitimate had they referred to any actual planned airing of commercials mentioning Bush 60 days before an election, but there were no commercials for the film planned during that time period, so the FCC concluded there was nothing to act on. This documentary, which very noticeably mentions Kerry and would be broadcast within the 60-day restriction, should be illegal itself under the same law used by conservative groups to try to silence Moore.

Don’t think this qualifies as a campaign ad? The filmmaker is Carlton Sherwood, a former journalist for the right-wing Washington Times (owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon), who later worked for Tom Ridge and finally was hired by the Bush administration to handle PR for Homeland Security. Carlton was arrested in 1983 for illegally taping a conversation, and in 1984 falsely accused Vietnam vets of misspending money for the Vietnam memorial.

If the broadcast is, in the end, allowed, then a panel discussion won’t be enough; Kerry should be given the exact same time slot one week later to run any damned thing he pleases.

Send email to the FCC expressing your outrage at this plan. The addresses are:

michael.powell@fcc.gov
kathleen.abernathy@fcc.gov
michael.copps@fcc.gov
kjmweb@fcc.gov
jonathan.adelstein@fcc.gov

Postscript: in case you thought that perhaps the guy running Sinclair is a paragon of virtue, check this out. He’s still President and C.E.O., by the way.

Update: The DNC has decided to file formal charges against Sinclair with the FEC on Tuesday, calling the infraction “Sinclair Broadcasting’s illegal in-kind contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign.” The FEC is closed until Tuesday because of Columbus Day.

Meanwhile, people against Sinclair’s plans have wasted no time, and a variety of sites are now up and running, including this site to boycott Sinclair, with a list of their advertisers; give as many as you can a call. Also sign this petition. DailyKos is all over this one, and will likely continue to be.

Update 2: Morons.org has a pretty good rundown on how the Sinclair move violates Federal Election Law. It seems pretty clear that Sinclair’s action is completely illegal.

  1. Enumclaw
    October 12th, 2004 at 14:20 | #1

    Actually, while I think Sinclair is being run by right-wing fanatics, this brings up some interesting questions.

    When is a movie no longer a campaign ad, but an actual documentary piece of work? What’s the dividing line?

    If Sinclair presented the movie as a news piece, could it get away with it? What if they chose to only run negative news about John Kerry? What if some network chose to only run negative news about Bush? Who gets to decide?

    The whole notion of “equal time” and fair play is sliding into the past.

    While I think Sinclair’s attempt to influence the election is pretty transparent, especially given their previous meddling in their programming decisions, I don’t think it’s as cut-and-dried as they might present.

    What if CBS decides to purchase and run Fahrenheit 9/11 a week before election day? Would that be something that would require “equal time”? If not, then what’s wrong with another network running the anti-Kerry movie?

    These are not simple questions to answer. The dividing line between news, entertainment, political contribution and free speech are all being more and more blurred.

    I hate the influence of money into politics, and I’d love to see it controlled somehow, but I have to say that I am no longer nearly as convinced that we shouldn’t just chuck the entire system of controls and only put in two simple rules: First, no corporations can give, period- all contributions must come from an individual (although individuals would be allowed to pool contributions through PACs, 527s, unions, whatever.)

    Second, instant reporting of any/all monies received, and no monies allowed to be given once the election is 7 days away or less. This would allow everyone to see where the money is actually coming from.

    Paul

  2. jus’ walkin’ the dawg
    October 13th, 2004 at 11:28 | #2

    Some fresh background on ‘Stolen Honor’ producer Carlton Sherwood:

    * His role in the Reagan administration.
    * His Nov 2003 statement that Dem primary candidates were ‘carping gleefully’ about US military deaths in Iraq.
    * Judicial Watch’s president described Sherwood as having advised Pres Bush.

    Job in the Reagan administration

    According to the bio on the website of his mercenary shop, the WVC3
    Group, Carlton Sherwood “served as Special Media Advisor to the
    Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan Administration”.

    Who was the Secretary of the Navy? Why, of course, it was James Webb,
    who now sits on WVC3’s advisory board.

    See http://www.wvc3.com/whoweare_seniormanagement.cfm
    and http://www.wvc3.com/whoweare_advisoryboard.cfm

    Note that these pages are NOT linked in from WVC3’s homepage. However,
    if you know the right search terms, you can find them through Google. :)

    Nov 2003 radio interview

    On 8th Nov 2003, Sherwood appeared on the frankly barking Judicial
    Watch Report Radio Show. It is hosted by Judicial Watch’s president, Tom
    Fitton, who spends much of the show indulging in paranoid right-wing
    rants. You can download that show (as an 80MB sound file) from:

    http://www.judicialwatchreport.org/radio/110803.ram
    or
    mms://www.judicialwatchreport.org/radio/110803.rm

    Sherwood had just got back from Iraq and was invited onto the show to
    talk (over the telephone) about the worsening security situation. There
    awo points of interest:

    a) At 2m 10s into the show, Sherwood is introduced by the host. In
    addition to the standard biog, Fitton says “he’s advised the President
    Bush” [sic]. Of course, Fitton could just have been wrong. I’m not clear
    if Sherwood was even on the line at that point. Anyhow, Sherwood
    certainly didn’t correct him on this.

    b) At 42m 12s into the show, Carlton Sherwood says this about US
    military casualties in Iraq:

    “Every time I get up in the morning and I turn on the cable news and I
    see that one or two more of our soldiers have been killed it’s like a
    kick in the guts to me, personally. But it’s also a double whammy
    because I know what soundbite’s going to follow that. And you’re right.
    It’ll be some wannabe – a Presidential wannabe, or one of their aides,
    carping, almost gleefully, using your word, almost gleefully that, uh,
    this is one more evidence of a failure.”

    Which does not exactly square with Sherwoods current claims of
    political independence: “Im a political independent and always have
    been… This is not political, it is deeply personal.”

    (the last quote is from a Oct 2004 news article)

  3. October 15th, 2004 at 12:00 | #3

    Disinfopedia has the full biography for Sherwood plus several articles about his associates:

    * Carlton Sherwood article

    * Article on Stolen Honor – Wounds That Never Heal

    * Charles Gerow – Sherwood’s publicist and RNC delegate

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